Winter bites, especially in Chicago. They don’t call that blasting wind “the hawk” for no reason. But despite the cold, it’s a guarantee you will see some dedicated commuters still out there burning down the roads on their bikes, including myself. But winter riding isn’t quite the same as any other time of year. Gear tends to fail; your clothing needs to find that perfect balance between warmth and breathability. Here are a few pointers to keep your bike in good condition and your commute as warm as possible.
Winter riding gear
It’s no mystery that the biggest deterrent to winter riding is the cold. Proper gear will make your ride not only doable but actually enjoyable. The best thing to keep in mind is to dress in layers, with each layer having a specific responsibility.
The base layer should work to wick away moisture from your body. A dry body is a warm one, so this could be one of the most important layers your wear. As Pamela Blalock writes, the old standby for wicking away moisture
has always been wool. This fabric is a great insulator and will keep you warm even when wet.
But advances in synthetic materials have created such fabrics as polypropylene and theramax, generally warm clothing without the itch associated with some wool products. These products are excellent fabrics that repel moisture, but they do have their downsides. For one, polypro and theramax fabrics tend to absorb smells
, even when washed often.
On your base layer should be the insulating layer, a layer meant to be added or removed as needed. This layer could be wool or fleece or perhaps just a down vest and should be used primarily for added warmth.
Lastly is the outer layer, your body’s defense against the wind and cold. This layer should be windproof and water repellant, worn loosely over your other layers. Acting like armor, it will shield you from the worst blast of cold air, making your ride that much more enjoyable.
Once you’ve got the proper riding gear, you can start thinking about your bike.
With cold temperatures come snow and slush, and with snow and slush come salt and sand spread all over the roadways. When riding during the winter, it is crucial that you care for your bike’s important parts.
explains that the drivetrain is the first to give a winter rider problems. The drivetrain includes the chain, the rear and front derailer (shifters), the chain rings and the cassette (the stack of chain rings on the back wheel). The chain is usually the first to wear down without proper lubrication and cleanliness, and once it starts to accumulate dirt and grime it will distribute that gunk to the other components of the drivetrain.
In order to avoid corrosion and rust on these important parts of your bike, Mike Curiak, a winter biker featured in Bicycling magazine, recommends that you lubricate the components, allow it to dry, and then wipe down the drivetrain until completely clean. But the most important rule for riding in all conditions is to keep this area of your bike clean and lubricated always.
Additionally, winter riding will wear down your brake pads and rim sidewalls much faster than fair weather riding. It is important to keep them clean; however simply washing them off with a hose could spray the salt and dirt into cables and bearings where they further damage to your bike. Curiak’s advice is to let the residue dry and then simply brush it away with a whisk broom.
And to keep you safe on the road, it may be advised to change out your tires for ones with better grip. The tire you will need
is one that removes the snow and dirt from your path rather than simply packing it into your tire’s ruts. As stated, tires with an inverted tread generally work the best to give you ample traction on the road.
There are also studded tires available, which look much like a track runner’s shoes with small metal studs poking out of the rubber. The best application for these tires is when coming across that sneaky path of black ice, but they work well in all winter conditions.
By reducing your tire pressure slightly, you can also increase the area of your tire in contact with the road, giving added traction.
Hit the road
As you can see, winter riding is really not that much different than summer riding in the sense that some adaptations must be met to keep you safe and at a comfortable temperature. With proper riding wear and bike tires, there is no stopping a bike-commuter, even in the dead of winter. And with adequate attention to your bike it can stay clean and free from corrosion.
The information listed above is a brief overview of some components of winter riding. Stop by a bike store or repair shop for more information and the best advice to keep you riding this winter.
Photos: Jeremy Jenum/Flickr, njwilson23/Flickr